|SignWriting List Forum|
Stefan Woehrmann |
Date: Sun Oct 24, 1999 10:42 pm
Subject: Re: Why is SignWriting Controversial?
Hi Valery and all Listmembers,
I took my time to read this article very carefully. Itīs a very important
message.It helps to mirror my own experiences, my fears and my hopes. Well -
I still have a long way to go to be able to use SW according to its
possibilities. When will the time have come to inroduce SW as a usual
discipline in schools for the Deaf? Our first steps in our class are very
interesting. The parents were amazed about this strange ability of their
children - being able to interpret signs that look like donīt know what to
them . I explained the enormous advantages we could expect in case their
kids would be able to write and read their first language. Colleagues who
visited our classroom are fascinated - so may be we are lucky to find a good
start. As soon as we can show up with the first results we will share them
with all of you.
Thanks again for this very informative article
>From: Valerie Sutton
>Reply-To: SignWriting List
>To: SignWriting List
>Subject: Why is SignWriting Controversial?
>Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 14:19:11 -0700
>October 23, 1999
>Hello SW List Members...
>As you know, I get lots of private messages and sometimes people write to
>me and ask me questions that may be of interest to the group as a whole. So
>I am posting an answer to a recent question about controversy over
>There was a time when SignWriting was very controversial...in fact I bet a
>lot of you have already experienced this yourselves. All kinds of people
>have been against it in the past. That is normal for new ideas,
>historically, but it is confusing too. Sooo...I went through my old files
>and I found this old article. I thought I would share it with you:
>WHY IS SIGNWRITING CONTROVERSIAL?
>written in 1997
>Let me tell you about something that is starting to happen with respect to
>SignWriting here. It's surprising. The general mood is favorable in every
>ambiance, but there is an unexpected contradictory movement.
>All this seems very strange to me. Why should anybody who talks a language
>resist to learn, or even to try to learn, a way of writing it? It doens't
>make sense. Or is there a sense that I can't grasp?
>You talked many times about the resistance to SignWriting, about the major
>cultural and social change that it implies. Do you think those people here
>are reacting against social change? Even Deaf people?!
>Answer from Valerie:
>Yes. Social change is occurring. Social change is always greeted with fear
>by the very people who shall be benefitted, because they are the ones that
>have to make the change, and change is frightening. The burden for change
>is on two groups...the educators and the Deaf...and of those two
>groups...the Deaf have it the hardest...because it hits them at the root of
>their identity. The hearing educators can go home and continue to live the
>same...but the Deaf people have to change their "very image" of themselves.
>This pattern repeats itself in every country that starts using SignWriting.
>Here in the United States..after 23 years ...finally the truly educated
>Deaf adults, who are the leaders within the Deaf Community, are finally
>saying "It is time to write our language". I am not saying it is perfect
>yet...no ..there are still a lot of people who have not "caught up" with
>the social change...but that will happen automatically when they see other
>Deaf people accept it. This takes a lot of patience.
>Of course I understand your feelings, and I always have to explain this to
>everyone who first starts using SignWriting. When they meet with the
>resistance, they are always surprised and confused by it. But history has
>repeated this in several instances. So this appears to be a normal human
>The pattern is this:
>The majority language rules, not because people want to hurt each other,
>but because most people speak the majority language. It is only natural.
>That is the language of commerce.
>The minority group feels insecure. They are afraid they won't be accepted
>by the majority. They are afraid that if they "make waves" that is "if they
>bring attention to their differences" that the majority will not approve.
>Technically the minority language is supressed...in this case Sign
>Language, without people even realizing it. The users of this minority
>language, in this case Deaf people, have noticed that they do better if
>they learn the majority language. It is not that they have directly been
>abused by the majority...it is more subtle than that. And so the fear
>spreads amongst themselves. Fear is catching.
>Historic Example One: This story already happened in the 1800's with the
>Cherokee Indian Language, here in the North American region called
>Oklahoma. The Cherokee Indian chief, named Sequoyah, was a brilliant man
>who decided it was time that their language become a written language.
>Their traditions would be lost if they didn't write them down. His own
>people hated him for this and thought it was the work of the devil. They
>even burned his books! When asked why they felt that way...one answer was:
>"Only the "white man" is "allowed" to read and write. Indians were never
>meant to do that". It took Sequoyah 25 years or so, before the writing
>system was accepted, and because of him, their traditions were preserved.
>Now the Cherokees are proud of Sequoyah. The little book telling the story
>is entitled "Sequoyah - Biography of the Inventor of the Cherokee
>Syllabary" by Grant Forman. Another book is "Sequoyah: The Cherokee
>Genius"by Stan Hoig.
>Historic Example Two: When Dr. Stokoe proved scientifically that ASL is a
>true language, you would have thought the Deaf people would be thrilled to
>finally have a hearing person prove that their language was a good one.
>Before that time they were told their language was a bad form of English.
>But no...even native signers who came from whole families of Deaf people
>had accepted that their language was no good. And they had been so
>endoctrinated in the school system that English was good and ASL was bad,
>that when Dr. Stokoe said ASL was good they protested and were angry at
>him. Why? Because they had worked so hard to learn English...it was such a
>struggle...and now they were afraid the hearing public would not accept
>them further...if they are "officially" different. It took twenty years
>before the Deaf Community was truly proud of ASL. And SignWriting started
>writing ASL back when all that was going on...so reading and writing ASL
>was even more controversial. When we started writing ASL, we were about 20
>years ahead of our time - but that was the way it should be. New ideas
>always take time...
>Try to imagine living to adulthood with no written form for your own native
>language. You speak your native language fluently, but because there is no
>written form for it, reading and writing is not a part of your self-image.
>And then imagine suddenly someone tells you that you "must read and write".
>It would be so new you wouldn't know what to think! And when you sat down
>to try to learn it, you would find that you didn't realize you said things
>that way. You had no idea your language did that...and that...and that. And
>suddenly you feel overwhelmed. And others around you feel the same way. So
>you gather in groups and say - "We don't want to learn this because it is
>too hard. It brings confusion to our lives. Let's leave things as they
>That is why teaching young children in school is the only way to make true
>social change for the next generation. But the present generation of Deaf
>adults did not learn SignWriting as children, and it is hard to teach
>adults. I am afraid this will go on for some time.
>Please don't let the social change get you down...it is a good sign...it
>shows that you are succeeding. I hope you can explain all this to your
>co-workers. It will help them to get a perspective on history. Best -
>Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
>Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA